reviewed: Kent Environmental Council celebrates 40 years of activism

By Mariana Silva

It was 1970 in the City of Kent when a group of people from Kent Citizens for Progress met for the first time in the basement of the Unitarian CAPITALIZE SPECIFIC CHURCH…church. They wanted to talk about air and water issues affecting their local environment.

They were aware the Cuyahoga River, then green and foamy, needed to be cleaned. They disagreed with burning garbage and littering from cars’ windows. They liked the idea of a city recycling center.

Whoever looks at Kent’s thousands of trees and clearer waters today, may not think of how difficult it was to convince people that the city wasn’t walking towards the right direction. The so-called communists and radicals from the Kent Environmental Council had to be persistent in fighting for a greener city.

Today, the former and current students, professors, and some now city public officials sit at The Rusty Nail’s banquet room to commemorate Kent Environmental Council’s 40th year of activism.

“There is a lot of antagonism toward environmental issues and environmental activism. It’s deemed to be a threat to businesses, so they fight us,” said Walt Adams, KEC’s first chair. “For a certain extent they always did fight us.”

Running through a wall in the banquet room, is a timeline of KEC’s history since it’s ARGHHHH ITS. NO APOSTROPHE.. IT ALREADY HAS POSSESSION….SO IT NEEDS NO APOSTROPHE.

foundation in 1970. Articles, awards, pictures and certificates illustrate the history of the ones who fought for a progressive Kent.

KEC has worked for the development of Riveredge Park, Kent’s recycling program, Haymaker Parkway’s landscaping and for the establishment of a Portage County environmental organization.

Forty years have past from the first point in the timeline that reads Kent Citizens for Progress News. The tones of white and gray in the heads of KEC’s greatest members today are now the most genuine signs of knowledge, hard work and love for the city they live in. GETTING A LITTLE EDITORIAL…OPINION… HMMMMM.

In the audience of about 120 people are Robert Brown, manager of Kent’s water reclamation facility, John Idone, director of Kent Parks and Recreation, Mayor Jerry Fiala, council members Tracy Wallach and Heidi Shaffer, and Vicky Kline, democratic candidate for Portage County Commissioner.

Walt ADAMS, KEC’s chair from 1970 to 1971, and again in 1990, welcomes his guests and introduces the eight other chairs who came after him. Ben Foote, Helen Gregory, Harold Walker, Sherry Gordon, Caroline Arnold, Gene Wenninger, Ann Ward and Charles Frederick get up from their seats WITH …under a sea of applauses.

Edith Chase, one of the prestigious A LONG-TIME MEMBER OF KEC….

members of KEC, is also applauded after receiving a prize from the Portage County Solid Waste Management District for her distinctive work for the city.

Walt and his wife Nancy Adams know most or all members of their audience, who for the most part taught or teach at Kent State, and live in Kent, much like themselves.

Walt and Nancy moved to Kent for what Walt believes to be a very obvious and practical reason: He was offered a job by Kent State. The couple, married for 48 years now, have lived in Kent for the past 43, and for 40 of those worked for KEC.

With all his expertise, Walt knew most of the guests sitting in the room this Oct. 16 would be “gray heads” and not the young folks. But that is OK. Walt likes to think of environmental activism as a cycle with ups and downs.

“I think back then the problems were obvious, people were burning trash in their backyards, the air had terrible quality to it,” said Walt about the years of no air pollution legislation.

“That doesn’t happen anymore. The air is a lot cleaner and I think the young people take that for granted,” Walt said. “But it wasn’t always like that, it’s been fixed,” said Walt about Kent’s environment.

Walt praises the women, mostly wives who stayed home back then when families didn’t need two incomes to support their homes. He said it was only through their time and energy as volunteers that initiatives like KEC accomplished so much.

“There aren’t so many younger people coming along and I don’t know why,” Walt said. “Maybe some catastrophe has to occur, but I hate to think we have to wait for that.”

Nancy said although Kent State students may not be directly involved with KEC, they are participating by belonging to other organizations and environmental activism groups.

“I think young people these days like to develop their own student organizations, their own groups, they do a lot on the Internet,” Nancy said. “But there are very active groups on campus and they may not join our organization, but our group works in collaboration with the interests of other groups.”

Nancy said as long as groups are working for the same local ideals as KEC, they will keep working together.

KEC has been working with local schools in creating community gardens and has awarded grants for environmental education through its Legacy for Learning program.

Currently, KEC has an annual budget of about $2,500, which comes mainly from members’ dues. The group meets for an informal breakfast at 8 a.m. every Friday at Diggers and holds its executive board meeting the third or fourth Thursday of each month.

At the celebration, the “new generation” of KEC is represented by Kenneth Mead (son of Ruth Mead, one of KEC’s activists) who is now an environmental attorney, and current chair Charles Frederick, professor of architecture at Kent State.

Frederick, like many people in the room, learned about KEC from a Kent State professor when he was an undergraduate student.

He is now looking for reaching out JUST LOOKING FOR NEW MEMBERS…..

to new members. He said he is looking at Facebook and other social networking alternatives to reach Kent State students and that KEC is also looking for more involvement with the university and the local schools.

“It’s exciting that we’ve hit a milestone and that we are going to continue the great ideas,” Frederick said. “We are not going to stop.”